Transport Strategy – PAC comment

I spoke on behalf of the Public Accounts Committee on the proposed transport strategy in April 2014. In effect, the point was made that no assurance could be given as to the figures in either the majority or the minority report.


Sir, A key aspect of both reports is to influence behaviour such that the motor vehicle is not the default choice of transportation. They propose various means of doing so, some aspects similar some different to achieve it. However, how can we be sure either strategy represent value for money?

The Committee would consider that, unless there are targets, what each strategy wants to achieve, it is very difficult to do so.

For instance, both aim to increase bus usage and a principle means of doing this is through free bus fares. However, nowhere does either state what would be a minimum target to determine success?

At the core of the minority report is the implementation of paid parking. However, there are no targets in terms of car park occupancy, though 80% is mentioned as an aim with dynamic pricing at some future point.

Nor do either reports cover targets in terms of reduced cars on the road, increased cycling and alternative modes of transport. Although assumptions are made for the purposes of coming up with figures. Eg Main report 15.4 it states that the Department has allowed for a 10% pa swing away from larger more polluting vehicles and has allowed for a 1% pa reduction in fuel use in favour of walking, cycling and bus use. 10% swing to cleaner vehicles and 10% to narrower vehicles. Para 164 of the minority report mentions the need for a worthwhile modal shift, but this is not quantified.

The problem of not having targets is not being able to judge whether money raised is being well spent. If we reduce cars on the road by 1-2% is that enough – would that really make a difference in terms of what the strategies are trying achieve? It won’t make much difference to the current situation so is it worth £1.6-£2m a year?


And this leads to a further concern. There a wide range of assumptions being made, that do not appear to have any justification other than being considered by the authors as ‘reasonable’ in their minds. These include reduction in fuel use, car use and infrastructure improvements.


In terms of fuel duty rises, various academic papers have shown a correlation between increases in fuel prices and car usage, which supports the Policy Research Unit’s report. However, the situation is not so black and white. A study undertaken last year showed that whilst usage went down, car users were not willing to reduce journeys for sending or taking family members and shopping. We would also question the calculations of potential fuel income being based on annual mileage of 10,000 miles and would question how this estimate was arrived at.

[Reduction of Private Vehicle Usage in Response to Fuel Price Rise:  A Comparison between Automobile Drivers and Motorcycle Riders]

In addition, as made clear by Deputy Burford, we would agree that it is not possible to ignore the effect of the 2008 crash on fuel usage. It is also not helpful not having diesel included in the analysis.


Generally we do have concerns regarding the robustness of the figures on page 617 and 620 of the main report covering income and expenditure respectively. In particular, the heavy emphasis on education and communication is not borne out by the costings of £!00k in the first year and £50k thereafter.

We would also question how the 3 additional 2nd hand buses correlate with additional bus routes and frequency of £300k a year. It cost, according to CT Plus’s accounts, £3.6m to run the bus service in the year to 31 March 2013. Much of these will be fixed costs and it is therefore hard to understand that this would result in an extra £300k plus £200-£300 to place it on what is called a firm footing and an extra £200k pa for targeted routes.

Generally, the Minority report is more detailed and it would appear that quite a lot of work has gone into the estimates being made. However, we would question why capital items are mixed together in annual expenditure for instance costs of buses and bus shelters whilst the bus depot has been considered as an amortised expense separately. It would be preferable if these figures could have been analysed separately.


So, in summary, the Public Accounts Committee has concerns about the financial aspects of both strategies in terms of what they are setting out to achieve and the assumptions being made. It is our belief that no assurance can be given as to the robustness of both sets of figures at this stage.

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